Keir Cutler performs an 'act of resurrection,' exploring his mother's memoir onstage

May Cutler, the first female mayor of Westmount, wrote a memoir in 1967 about her childhood summers spent in Mont-Tremblant. This book is the subject of her son's show, Magnificence, at the Montreal Fringe Festival.

May Cutler, 1st female mayor of Westmount, wrote a memoir in 1967 about her childhood

Keir Cutler is pictured with his mother May Ebbitt Cutler in 1961. He remembers growing up hearing his mother's story, which she published in 1967. He's now turned it into a short solo show at the Montreal Fringe Festival. (Submitted by Keir Cutler)

May Cutler, the first female mayor of Westmount and a prominent advocate for English-speaking Montrealers, casts a long shadow.

Her son, Keir Cutler, grew up listening to stories his mother would tell, particular about her childhood spending summers in Mont-Tremblant in the 1930s.

Now he's created a show debuting at the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival based on her memoir,  I Once Knew An Indian Woman, published in 1967.

"Of course it's been 50 years. So the story has sort of disappeared. The book is no longer in print but it's a story she told me as a child. It had a big effect on me," he said.

Keir Cutler said he's been trying to find the right way to perform his mother's memoir, I Once Knew an Indian Woman, for the last 15 years. (Submitted by Keir Cutler)

Cutler's mother died in 2011, and now in his 15th appearance at the Montreal Fringe, he's decided it's time to share the story with a wider audience.

"It's kind of an act of resurrection, because the book was wildly successful," he explains, noting that it received a rave review in The New York Times in 1973. 

"I'm trying to resurrect it for a larger audience and that's the exciting part, because every person that hears it would never have a chance to hear it without me, unless they somehow found a copy at a used bookstore."

The memoir tells the story of Cutler's mother witnessing "an act of a good Samaritan coming forward in a very difficult situation" that stayed with her throughout her life.

The theatre adaptation is called Magnificence and serves as a condensed, dramatized version of the same true story that lasts under an hour.

Keir Cutler and his mother, May Cutler, took a trip to Mont-Tremblant together before she died in 2011. (Submitted by Keir Cutler)

It presents the author's perception of an Indigenous woman "coming forward and doing something of tremendous courage for no personal gain" in the face of a village tragedy.

"Actually, I tear up every time I tell it," said Cutler. "And that's why I really wanted to do this show, and it took a long time to figure out how to do it."

He spent years thinking about how to develop it as a storytelling show, and received valuable feedback from his family and a local Indigenous organization.

Cutler said he's hoping the story will touch people across Canada, as he tours first Montreal and then Ottawa and Winnipeg this summer.

"I'm trying to think of it as as a growth process," he said. "I'm very excited about it. I think it's going to touch people because it touches me."

Magnificence runs at the Freestanding Room (4324 Saint-Laurent, Suite 300) from May 29 to June 15. The venue is accessible only by climbing two flights of stairs. Tickets are $12.